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The month of March witnessed several interesting endorsing conventions for state legislative seats. In many instances, the conventions sorted out who will carry their party’s banner in November. In other cases, the endorsed candidates are being challenged in a primary. Here’s a rundown of what occurred at some of the notable conventions from the month past.

March Madness recap (conventions edition)

Some endorsed legislative candidates will face primary challenges

The month of March witnessed several interesting endorsing conventions for state legislative seats. In many instances, the conventions sorted out who will carry their party’s banner in November. In other cases, the endorsed candidates are being challenged in a primary. Here’s a rundown of what occurred at some of the notable conventions from the month past.

March 6

Republicans in District 26A lined up a candidate to challenge first-term DFL Rep. Kory Kath, DFL-Owatonna. Kath pulled off an upset victory in 2008 in the Republican-leaning district, winning the seat that was vacated by GOP Rep. Connie Ruth of Owatonna. Brandon Pofahl of Owatonna won the 2010 endorsement, beating Ted Boosalis on the first ballot at the convention. Boosalis told Capitol Report this week that he will abide by the party’s endorsement.

In another close House district represented by a DFLer, Republicans in District 56A in the northeastern Twin Cities suburbs endorsed Kathy Lohmer over Erik Ogren. Lohmer’s endorsement sets up a rematch of her 2008 contest against Rep. Julie Bunn, DFL-Lake Elmo. Lohmer won the endorsement over Ogren 74-47, according to the Stillwater Gazette. Ogren told Capitol Report last week that he is abiding by the endorsement.

Kevin Staunton of Edina was endorsed by DFLers in District 41A, where the race has grown stranger by the month. Staunton staved off an endorsement challenge by former GOP Rep. Ron Erhardt. Staunton, an attorney, won the endorsement with 81 percent of the vote, according to a news release.

Erhardt told Politics in Minnesota last week that he’s considering a run in the primary, a campaign as an independent, or dropping out of the race. Erhardt, who served nine terms in the House, ran as an independent in 2008 after he lost the GOP endorsement. (See related story in this issue’s edition of [email protected] the Capitol.) Republican Keith Downey won a three-way race with Erhardt and Staunton in 2008.

March 13

Red Wing Mayor John Howe won his party’s endorsement to seek the open District 28 Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing. As of press time, DFLers hadn’t fielded a potential successor to Murphy.

Although Murphy won elections by decisive margins in his five terms in the Senate, the district is very much a toss-up. Both House districts in 28 are held by Republicans. The House seat that includes Red Wing has bounced back and forth between the parties in recent elections.

Cannon Falls auctioneer Rod Johnson and Red Wing salesman Craig Livingstone also sought GOP backing at the convention in Lake City. The Red Wing Republican Eagle reported the party took five hours to endorse Howe on the third ballot. The paper also noted that both of Howe’s endorsement competitors say they will abide by the endorsement.

A GOP primary battle could happen in the race to replace retiring state Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel.

Republicans in Senate District 18 endorsed former state Rep. Scott Newman of Hutchinson.

Newman beat three other GOP endorsement seekers: Tim Benoit of Hutchinson, businessman Dean Mahlstedt of Cokato and Glencoe Mayor Randy Wilson.

Wilson told Capitol Report after the convention that he’s not ruling out a primary challenge. He didn’t elaborate on the factors that might persuade him to abide by the endorsement. He noted, however, that there’s “a broader base of voters in the district” than the people who decided the endorsement.

March 16

Republicans in District 25 south of the Twin Cities picked candidates in Senate and House races who should be competitive against DFL incumbents.

Al DeKruif of Elysian won the endorsement to challenge Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield. Jack Baker and Bill Paulsen had also sought the GOP endorsement.

In District 25A, which is represented by David Bly, DFL-Northfield, Republicans endorsed Kelby Woodard of Belle Plaine. Woodard won over Mike Piper, who is abiding by the endorsement. The House district combines farm country and the college town of Northfield. Both parties have won the district within the last three election cycles.

March 20

The incumbent DFL senator in District 4 and the incumbent DFL representative in District 4A in northern Minnesota staved off endorsement challenges from tribal members in their district.

Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, won endorsement over Red Lake Band of Ojibwe member Greg Paquin. Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, beat Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe member Nicole Beaulieu. The two challengers, who said they won’t run in the primary, criticized the incumbents on American Indian issues, according to the Bemidji Pioneer.

Both Olson and Persell are completing their first terms.

March 21

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, faced an endorsement challenge in District 31A from labor-backed Winona City Council member Debbie White. White, however, abandoned her bid before the convention ballots were counted.

White launched her bid to unseat the 12-term incumbent with support from the American Federation of State, Council and Muncipal Employees (AFSCME Council 5). The metro-area AFSCME local is unhappy that Pelowski voted against the override attempt of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of an income tax increase at the end of the 2009 legislative session.

Pelowski will face a rematch with Republican Rhett Zenke of Winona, who challenged him in 2008.

March 27

Senate District 12 will see a Republican primary challenge between the incumbent and a former state House member.

Former Rep. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, ran unopposed for the endorsement. Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, skipped the convention and will run in the Aug. 10 primary.

Koering is the only openly gay Republican in the Legislature. In the past, he has successfully faced down intra-party challenges from social conservatives in his district. Gazelka, who served one term in the House in 2005-2006, was the author of legislation that proposed to amend the state Constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

In 2008, Koering defeated his then-primary opponent, Brainerd City Council President Kevin Goedker, by nearly 10 percentage points. But Goedker is resurfacing in the 2010 electoral mix: Republicans in House District 12A have endorsed him to run against DFL incumbent Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd. Goedker, however, faces a primary challenge from Chrissy Nakonsky of Brainerd, according to the Brainerd Dispatch.


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